Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Daily News - Brownsville parents...

Brownsville parents and teachers outraged over students sharing PS 140


Tuesday, July 1st 2008, 10:56 PM

Brownsville parents and teachers are outraged over plans to put two transfer schools - for overage, undercredited students - into a building where middle schoolers attend classes.

They're also asking why Brownsville isn't slated for a high school for neighborhood teens.

"The parents are extremely angry," said Yolanda Hector, Kappa V Middle School PTA president. "[We] are not comfortable with the transfer high school because of the age difference."

"My feeling is that, yes, all students deserve an education, but it's inappropriate to put 16- to 20-year-olds in the same building as middle school [students]," said teachers union district representative Karen Blackwell-Alford.

The transfer schools, Brooklyn Democracy Academy and Metropolitan Diploma Plus High School, are slated to open this fall in the Rockaway Ave. building where Kappa V and Public School 140 are located.

"The question we have for the mayor,: Why two transfer high schools and not a regular high school?" said Ualin Smith, who teaches seventh-grade science at Kappa V. "We just want a decent high school that the kids of Brownsville can apply to."

Parents also expressed concerns about their childrens' safety with older students in the building.
"God forbid the system brings [the older students] there and they [hurt] my son," said Lafleur Edwards of Brownsville, whose son, Dylano, 11, will be a Kappa V seventh-grader. "When I'm done suing the [Department] of Ed, they'll be bankrupt."

"My school is District 75 students," said Robert Berger, who teaches at PS 140, of his special education students. "Many of them have emotional issues....It [isn't] a good idea."

Department of Education spokeswoman Melody Meyer said students will be kept separate, not even sharing time in the cafeteria and gym.

Agency officials have held at least two meetings with parents, Meyer added, and school officials have discussed combining resources to buy computer equipment or to renovate.

"We've been working very closely with the parent leaders of the schools," Meyer said. "That said, there is a need for transfer schools in Central Brooklyn."

But parents said the Department of Education was taking away their choices.

Frita Mendez, mother of sixth-grader Seremmay, 11, and eighth-grader Iseinie, 13, said she chose Kappa V over a sixth-through-12th grade school because she was concerned about her daughters being in school with older students.

"I didn't sign on for something like this," she said.

The New York Times

July 2, 2008

Students, Teachers and Parents Weigh In on State of the Schools


For the second year in a row, a vast majority of New York City parents, teachers and students who responded to a Department of Education survey said they were satisfied with their schools, with more teachers saying their schools maintain order and make it a priority to help students achieve.

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg announced on Tuesday that more than 800,000 people responded to this year’s survey, which cost $2 million to conduct. The results of the survey account for 10 percent of the letter grades the city assigns to individual schools, with test scores and attendance making up the rest.

“I think for the first time a major school system has really listened to the parents, listened to the teachers, listened to the principals, listened to the students and tried to find out what they really say, rather than have the arrogance to think we know, ” the mayor said.

This the second year the city has conducted the survey of nearly 1.5 million parents, teachers and students. One encouraging finding was that more students reported feeling safe in hallways, bathrooms, and locker rooms at their school: 72 percent this year compared with 68 percent last year.

There were some signs of trouble and dissatisfaction, however. More than a third of middle and high school students said getting good grades did not earn the respect of other students, and nearly a quarter of parents named smaller classes as the improvement they most wanted. Both findings echo the results of last year’s survey. But among teachers, 82 percent of those who responded to the voluntary survey said that their schools made it a priority to help students achieve their learning goals, up from 73 percent last year. And nearly three-quarters said that their schools maintained order and discipline, up from 64 percent last year.

Randi Weingarten, the president of the United Federation of Teachers, said in a statement that the survey results reinforced the idea that student-teacher interaction was the most important aspect of schools.

Ninety-four percent of the 347,829 parents who responded to the survey said they were “satisfied” or “very satisfied” with their child’s teacher, and 86 percent said the teachers gave “helpful comments on homework, class work and tests.”

“The fact that parents think so highly of their children’s teachers also indicates how selfless our educators are,” Ms. Weingarten said. “They give their all despite feeling that the central administration isn’t listening to their concerns.”

Last week, the teachers’ union released the results of its own survey, which showed that 82 percent of those responding said they believed Mr. Klein did not have “confidence of the expertise of his educators.”

Education Department officials sharply criticized the union’s methodology, saying that the survey asked leading questions at a time when the union was also running advertisements criticizing the department.

The participation in the city’s survey increased significantly from last year, when 587,000 people responded, and included 48,002 teachers — a 61 percent response rate — and 410,708 students, a 78 percent response rate. Most students filled out the surveys in class, and principals across the city pushed to increase the parent participation, which was 40 percent this year, up from 26 percent last year.

Mary Ellen Kociszewski, principal of the High School for Applied Communication in Long Island City, Queens, where the survey results were released on Tuesday, said she asked parents to fill out surveys when they came to school for teacher conferences and to pick up report cards.

James S. Liebman, the Education Department’s chief accountability officer, who oversaw the survey, said that over all, parents of elementary school students had a higher response rate than those of older children, as they did last year. He said the response rate increased at so-called high-need schools, which have significant numbers of poor, minority and special education students.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

The NY Sun - Mayor Sees a Test Scores Triumph

Mayor Sees a Test Scores Triumph

Or is it a case of inflation of results?

By ELIZABETH GREEN, Staff Reporter of the Sun
June 23, 2008

Mayor Bloomberg will announce an education victory today: Test scores are up across the city, by double digits at some schools. But a cloud is already gathering, as education experts are raising the possibility that these gains and others across the country could suggest score inflation and not real learning gains.

The scores being released today show a nine-percentage-point gain in math citywide versus last year, and a seven-point gain on the reading test. The gains are even more remarkable when viewed over the six-year timeline since Mr. Bloomberg took office: Three-quarters of city students now score proficient at math, up from 37% in 2002.

This year's gains were larger than the increases statewide, though smaller than in other cities, such as Buffalo, Rochester, and Yonkers.

Mr. Bloomberg is scheduled to announce the results at a press conference at P.S. 175 in Harlem this afternoon.

The mayor has often greeted test-score increases as evidence that he is fulfilling his promise to improve public schools. "I'm happy, thrilled, ecstatic," he said last year, announcing gains on the state math test.

Since then, concerns have grown that rises in state test scores in New York and elsewhere do not reflect real improvement, but rather "inflations" — either due to easier tests, deliberate cheating, or more subtle "gaming" that helps students perform better without actually having to learn more material.

Local education experts last September called for an audit of the state test after a respected national test showed the city posting significant gains in only one academic area, despite reports from the state test showing larger gains across the board.

A report grading state tests recently delivered New York State a C+. And a study by the teachers union found that a reading test dropped in difficulty by as many as six grade levels between 2004 and 2005.

The concern in New York follows a pattern around the country.

"Measuring Up: What Educational Testing Really Tells Us," a new book by a testing expert and Harvard Graduate School of Education professor, Daniel Koretz, calls score inflation the "dirty secret" of high-stakes testing.

Although some test-score gains represent the real, hard work of teachers and students, others "are entirely illusory," Mr. Koretz writes.

A recent study of Texas schools is the latest in a string of academic observations on the effects of high-stakes testing. The study concludes that educators are "gaming" their state tests by preventing low-achieving students from taking them and teaching only material they expect to appear on the test, rather than the wider span of material tests are supposed to represent.

A study by a pscyhometrician and professor at the University of Iowa, Andrew Ho, found that two-thirds of state tests are publishing higher gains than a national test.

New York is not immune from the phenomenon, according to another researcher studying state tests, Bruce Fuller, a professor of education and public policy at the University of California at Berkeley.

"We've got great rhetoric and great pressure on teachers to teach to the test, but at the end of the day when Albany reports out the share of kids that are proficient, we can't really trust their claims, especially when put up against the federal definition of proficiency," Mr. Fuller said.

The State Education Department defended its tests.

"All of New York's tests are checked many times to be sure that a score this year means the same next year," a spokesman, Tom Dunn, said in a statement. "The only way for a student to improve performance is by learning the curriculum — reading, writing, and math."

At the city Department of Education, where scores are used to help determine school closures, teacher and principal salaries, and promotion decisions from one grade to another, a senior official who oversees testing, Jennifer Bell-Ellwanger, said she has confidence that state tests are reliable.

Ms. Bell-Ellwanger said the department takes into account the potential errors of testing by looking at trends rather than individual data points.

Shown the results, the education historian Diane Ravitch noted that scores were up statewide, and that some cities had even larger gains than New York City.

"What this suggests to me is that the state lowered the bar and it is easier to pass the exams," Ms. Ravitch said.

She said the lesson of the results should be that the state "needs an independent agency to conduct the state tests and report on results."

The results will have an effect on schools. Teachers who signed up for a pilot project on merit-based performance bonuses could become eligible to receive them. Schools teetering on the edge of a failing report card grade could be pushed to another side.

Students will also be affected.

Yesterday, the principal at I.S. 349 in Bushwick section of Brooklyn, Roy Parris, said that his school's high test scores — he said they shot up about 10 points in both math and reading — mean that only one seventh-grader of 155 total is eligible to be held back this year, down from about 15 seventh-graders last year.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Goverment Lies, Corruption and Mismanagement

Bloomberg's Secret Government is Unknown Even to Him

Take Guy Velella, for example. If the CEO of our city government doesn't know what political favors are being done by people who work for him, is this good management? Or did Mayor Bloomberg know that the Local Conditional Release Commission was doing? You Decide.

October 17, 2004
A Back Door Out of Rikers, Suddenly FamousBy BENJAMIN WEISER and KEVIN FLYNN, NY TIMES


The Local Conditional Release Commission was born more than a decade ago with seemingly the best of intentions. It would show mercy for certain nonviolent prisoners in New York City by freeing them from jail, an act that would also save money and reduce prison overcrowding.

And acting like a local parole board, that is just what the commission did. Hundreds of low-level criminals were freed each year.

But over time, as crime declined, jail populations slumped and the political environment shifted, the panel of mayoral appointees began to release fewer and fewer inmates, a tiny fraction of the thousands of cases it reviewed each year - so few that some prosecutors and the mayor himself lost track of the panel's existence.

Until a few weeks ago.

With its release of a former state senator, Guy J. Velella, only three months into a one-year jail term for public corruption, the panel, which has always lived in the backwaters of the city's criminal justice system, suddenly took center stage. Its rules, its criteria for release, its record keeping, its motivations and its political bent, or lack thereof, have all been the subject of much speculation and analysis in recent weeks.

What emerges from an examination of the commission's activities is a picture of a board that has had almost unfettered power to free prisoners and that continued to operate in the shadows of city government with little accountability and virtually no oversight.Though the obscure body was served by a small staff and a director who was paid $135,000 a year, city officials were unable last week to explain whether the panel has written rules, the extent of its records on its deliberations, or whether it met in person to deliberate.

What is more, of the 15 people the panel freed early over the past five years, there are questions about whether, under the board's own informal guidelines, five were even appropriate candidates for release. For example, in 2000, the panel released Mark Gastineau, a former New York Jets player, even though he had been jailed for an assault on his wife and had prior arrests and probation violations. Two weeks later, the panel reconsidered and ordered Mr. Gastineau returned to jail. And in three cases - those of Mr. Velella and his two co-defendants in a bribery conspiracy- city investigators have stepped in to review whether favoritism was at work.

Indeed, some criminal justice officials are asking why the panel, which has a $386,000 yearly budget and employs several city workers, even continues to exist. "There's no public accountability," said Bridget G. Brennan, the city's special prosecutor for drug crimes, who said she believed that at least one of the defendants her office had prosecuted was later released by the commission.

"The way it's structured,' she said, "just belies the principles of openness and impartiality that are really critical to assure people that our system of sentencing is just."

Response to criticisms by Ms. Brennan and others has been hard to come by. The panel's chairman, its three other members and its executive director all resigned under fire in recent days. Besides some limited remarks several weeks ago, they have declined to comment or have not returned phone calls. City officials, too, have refused to comment, in part because of the continuing investigation and in part because they depict the panel as an independent, quasi-judicial body.

The new chairman appointed by the mayor last week, Daniel Richman, a Fordham University law professor and a former federal prosecutor, has said that it is not his place to discuss how the board might have performed in the past, and that he has not begun to ponder how he views the board's future.

"My job at this point," he said, "is to understand the statutory framework for the board and comply with it."

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who said he had not even heard of the commission before Mr. Velella's release, even though his administration had appointed two of its members, has said that the panel has "outlived its useful purpose" and that he would support legislation to abolish it.

None of this controversy seemed likely when state lawmakers created local conditional release commissions in 1989. The panels in New York and in counties throughout the state were seen by the Legislature as a way to save money and relieve overcrowding in local jails. Under the law, prisoners serving sentences of 90 days to a year could apply for early release after serving 60 days.

"As originally envisioned, it definitely served a worthwhile purpose," said Jerome M. Becker, a former city criminal court judge who was the panel's chairman from 1990 to 1994.

In the early years, Mr. Becker said, the commission would not grant early release to an inmate with a long record or violent background. Prisoners who were released had to agree to strict conditions, like wearing ankle bracelets or entering drug treatment. A prisoner's release could be revoked if he or she violated the release terms, and recidivism was extremely low, Mr. Becker said.

Mr. Becker said that the commission, which has operated out of an office at 33 Beaver Street in Lower Manhattan, met regularly, issued annual reports and consulted with prosecutors, judges and others on prisoner releases. "We got opinions from everybody," Mr. Becker said. In those early years, Mr. Becker recalled, about 200 prisoners a year were released.

"It was not a secretive commission," he added. "The defense bar was aware of it. The district attorney's office was aware of it. The judges were aware of it."

Former Mayor David N. Dinkins recalled, "At the time, it seemed to make a lot of sense."

In recent weeks, the commission has refused requests from The New York Times for copies of its annual reports, as well as other documents that could help illuminate its inner workings, including statistics on the precise number of cases reviewed and the number of prisoners freed. In a terse statement, the commission said that in 1991, it was advised by the City Law Department that it was not required to make public the rules that govern its decision-making.

It is clear, though, that the number of releases dropped sharply in the end of the administration of Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, with 15 releases from 1999 to 2004, according to the limited data provided by the panel. One city official said that the drop was due in part to the use of more restrictive criteria in assessing cases. One change, for example, was that prisoners could be considered only if they had no prior record, the official said.

Mr. Giuliani's spokeswoman, Sunny Mindel, said there had been no policy by Giuliani's administration to tighten the release criteria because the board was independent.

The board was "not high on everyone's radar," she said.

"There was knowledge of its existence," she said, "and a view that it might be somewhat anachronistic to the extent that it was created to solve the problem of overcrowding, which had been eased."

But she said it was no surprise that the prisoner releases fell. "Mayor Giuliani's successful approach to crime reduction was widely known and shared by many," she said.

Steven M. Fishner, a former assistant district attorney who was the city's criminal justice coordinator in Mr. Giuliani's second term, was critical of the commission's role, which he called a "backdoor way to get people out of jail."

He noted that the commission typically reviewed cases just months after a judge had already decided the sentence, based on information from prosecutors, lawyers and probation officers.

Of the Velella decision, he said, "It's bad public policy that's given birth to a bad individual decision that is rightly getting the attention it's getting because it undermines confidence in government."

Michael Jacobson, who directed criminal justice agencies under Mayors Dinkins and Giuliani, said that given the city's once crowded population of prisoners, which peaked at more than 20,000 in the early 1990's, "even when they were releasing a lot, it was still a little."

"It's not like it ever really served any purpose as a prison-population valve," Mr. Jacobson said. "It served a purpose of at least letting some folks go who could clearly be handled just as well, if not better, in the community."

Besides the trickle of prisoners now being freed, 18 more inmates were offered early release in the past year but did not take it, Jack Ryan, the spokesman for the city Probation Department, has said. That is because accepting early release requires an inmate to agree to one year of supervision by a probation officer, and inmates facing only a month or two on their sentences may choose to serve their time and avoid the year of probation.

Earlier this year, there was a move in Albany to abolish the panels, spurred by outrage after an upstate panel released Mary Beth Anslow three months into a one-year sentence for operating an illegal day care center where a 3-month-old girl died. But it fell victim to the political and policy differences between the State Senate and the State Assembly.

In February, the Senate, which is dominated by suburban and upstate Republicans, and tends to take a hard line on law and order, voted 59 to 0 to abolish the commissions. A memorandum in support of the bill noted "the lack of standards in determining eligibility for release."

Among those voting was Senator Velella, who had not yet resigned. And the main sponsor of the Senate bill, Michael F. Nozzolio, an upstate Republican, wrote a letter last summer advocating Mr. Velella's release by just such a commission.

But in the Democratic-controlled Assembly, which tends to advocate shorter prison terms and more alternatives to prison for nonviolent inmates, the bill went nowhere. It was referred to the corrections committee and died without being introduced.

Assemblyman Jeffrion L. Aubry, a Queens Democrat who is chairman of the corrections committee, said that the Assembly had "a different view, institutionally, on what should be done" with the commissions. He cited the early goal of easing overcrowding in jails, and the desire to give municipalities bearing the brunt of the costs of housing inmates a chance to release nonviolent or ill prisoners.

Mr. Aubry said that although the Assembly was troubled by allegations that the commissions' power had been abused in some cases, it did not believe that the commissions should be abolished.

Starting next month, he said, he plans to hold hearings to study the commissions and how they work, the requirements for winning release, and how involved local officials are.

Until last week, the members of the panel in New York City included its chairman, Raul Russi, and Amy Ianora, who were both appointed by Mr. Giuliani. Mr. Bloomberg appointed the other two members, Irene Prager and Jeanne Hammock. The vote to release Mr. Velella was three in favor and one, Ms. Hammock, abstaining. Mr. Russi has said that the release was granted as a compassionate measure because Mr. Velella was a broken man who was calling commission staff members from jail.

Not surprisingly, the commission's relatively few current defenders include some former prisoners who were released by the commission.

Judith Smiley, who pleaded guilty in 2002 to custodial interference for her role in the abduction of a baby boy in 1980, was serving a six-month sentence in the Rikers Island infirmary because she had health problems and was in a wheelchair. A probation officer from the commission got in touch with her, she said.

"I asked how they got my name, because I had not applied for it," Ms. Smiley said by phone from Albuquerque, where she lives. "He said that in essence, one of the commissioners was following the case in the paper and thought that I was a candidate for the program."

Ms. Smiley added, "It was a godsend." She pointed out that she had expected to serve four months (a prisoner's sentence is typically reduced by one-third for good behavior), and the early release meant that she had to serve only two months - "not that I was counting," she said.

Michael Cooper contributed reporting from Albany for this article

November 9, 2004
Freeing Ex-Senator Violated the Law, City Panel Is Told


The New York City Law Department has determined that an obscure mayoral panel acted illegally when it released former State Senator Guy J. Velella from jail three months into his yearlong sentence, paving the way for Mr. Velella and four other Rikers Island prisoners who were released by the commission this year to be sent back to jail, the commission announced yesterday.

Mr. Velella and the others have been informed that they must reapply for early release by next Tuesday, and that three days later the board will decide whether to grant the requests. If it does not, the five are likely to be ordered back to jail.

The September decision to let Mr. Velella out of jail was an embarrassment for Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who said he had never before heard of the panel, the Local Conditional Release Commission, even though his office appointed two of its four members. Mr. Bloomberg quickly ordered an investigation and forced all the commission members to resign, replacing them with the five members who would consider Mr. Velella's new application.

The commission had worked in relative obscurity for years in the depths of the City Department of Probation, considering whether to grant early release to first-time offenders serving short sentences in city jail.

Its release of Mr. Velella, who was sentenced to Rikers Island for conspiracy to commit bribery, ignited outrage among elected officials and others who thought it smacked of favoritism for a politically connected former lawmaker and his associates.

Mr. Velella, a Republican, and two other inmates connected to his case, Manual Gonzales and Hector Del Toro, were 3 of only 13 people released by the panel in the last six years; thousands of inmates have been denied such release.

The City Department of Investigation determined last week that the commission had violated numerous procedures when it released Mr. Velella and most of the others whose applications it had considered. The department found that the commission often did not have the necessary quorum of three members present when it granted an early release, and that the panel allowed Mr. Velella to make a second application for release too soon after it rejected his first application; state rules require a 60-day period to reapply.

Based on those findings, the city's Law Department determined that Mr. Velella, Mr. Gonzales and Mr. Del Toro were released on applications that were invalid, and the new members of the commission have concurred.

"The findings in the Department of Investigation report and the legal opinion that we've been given by the Law Department make at a minimum a prima facie case for the legal invalidity of all releases done as a result of illegal voting procedures by this commission," said Daniel C. Richman, the new chairman of the commission.

Yesterday, the new commissioners sent letters to the five people released this year, notifying them that they must reapply. The other two cases concern a person who served time for criminal possession of drugs and another who was convicted of forgery.

If the commission determines that the release of these former prisoners should not be upheld, they are likely to be told to turn themselves in. However, lawyers for at least two of the three released in the Velella case said they would fight any attempt to return their clients to jail.

"Guy Velella did absolutely nothing wrong to obtain his conditional release," said Charles Stillman, Mr. Velella's lawyer. "The fact of his eligibility to be released in as little as 60 days was fully known to the district attorney and the court. Every step taken on his behalf was in accordance with procedures set down by the Local Conditional Release Commission and oral advice from its senior staff. Guy Velella has paid and is paying for his wrongdoing."

Frank Ortiz, who represents Mr. Gonzales, said: "Every time you don't like the way a decision comes out, do you put in a new commission to change it?" Mr. Del Toro's lawyer, Steven R. Kartagener, had no comment.

Perhaps hinting that the commission has already determined how it will vote on at least some of the cases, Kerri Martin Bartlett, a member of the commission, said, "It is fair to say these matters will be litigated."

Creation of the boards around the state was authorized in 1989 to help relieve jail overcrowding, a problem that has since abated. Some lawmakers and other elected officials, including Mr. Bloomberg, would like to see the boards abolished.

Prior court cases suggest that New York City could prevail in sending Mr. Velella back to jail.

In one recent case, an inmate's application for early release in Rensselaer County was initially rejected, but the inmate reapplied less than 60 days later and won release. Because the law states that inmates must wait 60 days after being rejected to apply again, the State Supreme Court found the release invalid and the inmate was sent back to jail. Mr. Velella and Mr. Del Toro each reapplied for release shortly after their first requests were denied.

In a case resembling Mr. Velella's, a member of the commission in Livingston County decided to release a politically connected inmate without consulting the panel's two other members. In that case, the inmate was returned to prison.

The members of the New York City board said yesterday that they would discontinue the practice of automatically considering every prisoner who qualifies for release and instead require an application from anyone who wants consideration. That process is actually required by statute, the commissioners said, yet one more way in which the former commissioners failed to observe the law.

Without having applications and supporting materials, the board members said, they had nothing to base their decisions on outside of what the sentencing judge already used in the case. To make the process more open to those without education, connections or legal savvy, Mr. Richman said, the commission would reach out to jail inmates to let them know the commission exists and how to apply. "We suspect what will happen is that we will get fewer applications," Ms. Bartlett said.

Yesterday, Mr. Bloomberg said he did not want to prejudice the board's decision. "I didn't think he should have been released to begin with," he said of Mr. Velella, "because I think elected officials should certainly not be treated better than anybody else."

Go to on Velella

Friday, June 27, 2008

Bloomberg and Council Reach Deal on Budget

Bloomberg and Council Reach Deal on Budget


Published: June 27, 2008

With a legal deadline four days away, city officials brokered a deal on Thursday night on a $59.1 billion budget that would preserve a popular tax cut for homeowners and a $400 rebate and add $129 million in education spending to what had originally been proposed.

Over all, the size of the budget for the fiscal year that begins in July is essentially unchanged from the current one. But during a news conference in the City Hall rotunda, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and the City Council speaker, Christine C. Quinn, said they were not able to provide as much money as they would have liked for some cultural and social programs. And they repeatedly warned that the current economic downturn threatened the following year’s budget, thanks to the rising price of oil, a falling stock market and other troubling indicators.

“I don’t have to tell anybody here that this is a difficult time and the forecasts are worrisome,” Mr. Bloomberg said. “With so much uncertainty in the local and national economy, we need to show fiscal restraint just as families across the city are doing.”

Ms. Quinn added, “As much good news as there is in this budget, there is bad news for some people.”

The deal came as a relief to lawmakers and administration officials, who had worried that the city might not make the legally mandated July 1 deadline. But the relative austerity of the budget deal disappointed many of the housing, legal, health care and other advocates who had become a regular fixture on the steps of City Hall all week.

Details are expected to be released in the next day or two, and the City Council is scheduled to vote on the budget on Sunday night.

During the news conference, Mr. Bloomberg and Ms. Quinn offered a few of the highlights. The New York City Housing Authority would receive $18 million more than Mr. Bloomberg proposed in May. Libraries would continue to be open six days a week and not five as was originally suggested.

The city’s capital budget would be trimmed by 20 percent. All agencies would absorb across-the-board cuts in operating expenses. And financing for City Council-sponsored programs, now at the heart of a federal investigation, was cut by 38 percent. There would also be less money to pay for security guards at cultural institutions, and a chess program for schools was cut.

The budget also eliminates civilian positions in the Fire Department and eliminates unfilled positions in the Police Department.

“Everything was given a little haircut,” said Councilman David Weprin, the chairman of the Finance Committee.

Initial reaction was mixed.

“I am disappointed that with a $4.5 billion surplus, the mayor forced the Council to cut funding for essential services, including homeless prevention, legal and mental health services, and workforce development,” said Councilman Bill de Blasio of Brooklyn. “In addition, the New York City Housing Authority, which is in dire financial straits, will be forced to shut senior centers and youth programs across the city. The mayor should not have put the city in this situation, and these cuts will be deeply felt for years to come.”

“This is a bad day for seniors,” said Bobbie Sackman, the director of public policy for the Council of Senior Centers and Services, who estimated that the budget would reduce spending on travel, housing, food, H.I.V. testing and other services by a total of $19 million.

Throughout the process, the mayor and the Council seemed to be living in different fiscal universes. While Mr. Bloomberg called for financial austerity in the face of a rapid downturn in the economy, the Council accused him of overstating the city’s woes, pointing to a big surplus in the 2008 budget.

Talks between both sides began to sour two weeks ago, after Mr. Bloomberg announced on his weekly radio show that the city might have to scrap a popular property tax cut for homeowners.

The mayor said that the 7 percent tax cut, put in place in 2007, might not be justifiable given job losses on Wall Street and an unexpected $700 million bill for a retroactive raise given to 23,000 police officers in May.

Almost immediately, the Council united to oppose the measure, turning what had been described as amicable talks into a bitter stalemate.

At one point this week, the negotiating team for the Council broke off talks to highlight their frustration.

One councilman, Lewis A. Fidler of Brooklyn, stormed into the press room at City Hall and accused the mayor of playing “a nasty game of chicken” with the property tax proposal, which would amount to a tax hike.

“He’s looking at his last year as mayor, and he doesn’t want to go out with an unmanageable situation,” Mr. Fidler said.

On Thursday afternoon, the atmosphere was so tense that when Mayor Bloomberg walked out of City Hall and headed toward his car, he barely acknowledged the calls of children who had convened on the steps with their parents to decry overcrowding in public schools.

At the news conference, Mr. Bloomberg and Ms. Quinn even forgot to do the traditional handshake and kiss. When a reporter asked what had happened, they returned. Ms. Quinn said “Take two,” and the two performed their duty.

Fernanda Santos contributed reporting.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Hey City Council, what are those $800 million in "nondiscretionary" DOE cost increases?

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Hey City Council, what are those $800 million in "nondiscretionary" DOE cost increases?

I recently sent this letter to City Council Member Dan Garodnick, and similar letters to Speaker Christine Quinn and Council Member Alan Gerson, with copies to Council Member Robert Jackson of the Education Committee. I encourage other parents to do the same. Dramatic cuts to school budgets are being negotiated in the City Council right now, and the cost basis for these cuts deserves to be challenged.

UPDATE: See full detail on Tweed's $809 million in "non discretionary" cost increases here and $154 million in "discretionary" increases here.

Dear Council Member Garodnick,

It was good to meet you last week and convey some of parents' concerns about the DOE budget.

I mentioned when we spoke that many parents following education issues feel that the overruns in the FY 09 budget identified by the DOE as inevitable cost increases are in fact discretionary. I attach an exile file from the DOE detailing their claimed cost increases. You'll see that very few of them are milk and fuel. Several fund increases in controversial and untested programs. Items that could be considered non-compulsory include:

- $70 million in growth for charter schools
- $64.3 million in growth for CTT programs
- $30 million for expanded school closures
- $26.7 million to maintain school level funding for Fair Student Funding

Of these reputed overruns only about $380 million is increased staff expenses, and $2 million of that is a CSA bonus created by Chancellor Klein. Only $43 million is increased transportation costs.

Under "necessary improvements":

- $25 million in expanded merit pay for teachers (the first year of this program, which was privately funded, has not been evaluated)
- $20 million in "school support reserve": what is this?
- $10 million more for ELA and math test scoring. Why?
- $2.3 million more for "Talent Intitiatives": what is this?
- $2 million more for G&T classes

In their budget cuts document (also attached), DOE claims they are cutting periodic assessments and children's first intensive programs at a savings of $1.4 million and $2.45 million, respectively. But under "necessary improvements" these programs are identfied as increasing by $3.6 million and $2.8 million, respectively, in costs.

Additionally, according to Principals' Weekly, DOE is doubling the size of data inquiry teams. This cost does not appear in the budget.

The accountability office and the quality reviews could also be cut. Their value in relation to their cost has never been convincingly demonstrated to the public.

DOE officials are saying to parents and officials all over town that they are obliged to make draconian cuts to high performing schools because they are burdened by increasing costs. But these are costs of their own devising. Before we sacrifice successful schools, and challenge salutary influence of the CFE funds on our struggling schools, we should look to how much these expensive programs are really doing for us. And we certainly should not allow them to be disguised as necessary increases in basic operating costs.

Many thanks for your attention,
Ann Kjellberg

Friday, June 13, 2008

NYCLU - School to Prison Pipeline

Every day, more than 93,000 New York City school children must pass through a gauntlet of metal detectors, bag searches and pat downs administered by police personnel who are inadequately trained, insufficiently supervised and often belligerent, aggressive and disrespectful. This burden weighs most heavily on the city's most vulnerable children, who are disproportionately poor, Black and Latino.

A groundbreaking new report by the New York Civil Liberties Union and the American Civil Liberties Union, Criminalizing the Classroom: The Over-Policing of New York City Schools, documents the excesses of the policing operation in New York City's public schools and the penalties that students have paid as a result of those operations.

Laying the responsibility squarely at the feet of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the NYCLU and the ACLU Racial Justice Project report offer realistic recommendations for reform.
The NYCLU and the ACLU are committed to working with educators, students, families, community members, and city officials to achieve these urgently needed reforms. Click below to get more information about this problem and to learn how to get involved in making change.
Get informed
Read the Report (PDF)
Read about students who have experienced over-policing in their schools
Download our Palm Card: Know Your Rights with Police in Schools (PDF)
Read About the School-to-Prison Pipeline

Get involved
Download the NYCLU's Organizing Tool Kit on Policing in Schools (PDF)
Learn how to file a complaint about the behavior of an NYPD officer or a School Security Agent in a school (Microsoft Word file)
Download a template of a letter to send to your council member (Microsoft Word file)
Download a template of a letter to send to the mayor and the schools commissioner (Microsoft Word file)
Reach out to key organizations working on policing in schools